The Curse of Harry Truman’s swords

Truman

President Harry S. Truman (left) and the Shah of Iran (right) in the Oval Office during the Shah’s visit to the United States. // Courtesy of Truman Library, Public Domain

The perpetrators have met their demise. The statute of limitations is long past. The strange and remarkable saga of the stolen swords and daggers can now be told.

These artifacts remain scattered having survived the longest and strangest trip. Sadly, the belt was eaten by a goat in North Tulsa but the swords, scabbards, and dagger are intact with the jewels back in their original grips.

The masterminds of this famous heist were all three 1970 grads of a high school in Eastern Jackson County which coincidentally was named for the 33rd president and whose library was the scene of the caper. Each found an untimely demise (much more on that later) but to protect the families their real names have been changed. The tale begins with in the spring of 1973 when our perps reunited and became sort of a Noland Road posse.

Champ Fulsom had just returned from a two year hitch that included a tour that had taken him to Danang and left him physically unscarred but emotionally wounded with a quarter ounce a week weed requirement. Dale had the unfortunate lottery number of 7 and instead of his full ride to Cornell, he wound up riding shotgun in a Huey. When he got back he’d tried some math courses at Longview but his heretofore sticky brain (720 Math SAT) was in a daily fog due to his weed consumption so he took a job as the evening manager of a midtown head shop. He was a natural at selling water beds, bongs and bookkeeping for the owner. 

Mastermind number two, “Dougee Dawg” (Douglas to his mom who coincidentally was a Mid-Continent librarian) Arees. Dougee Dawg was not nearly as gifted intellectually as Champ but he was a star Patriot athlete (linebacker with a full ride to what was then CMSC), the looks of a young Tom Selleck and the ambition of a guy who would have four jobs on his resume and great familiarity with the unemployment office on the Square by the time of our Big Event, March 24, 1978.

Every important caper/heist needs a catalytic complicated romantic component and April Finch was a “10” on the moll scale. Think Jane Fonda or Barbarella with significant endowments and a savant for really bad ideas. Like many savants, her brain had a genius in a few areas (lyrics to Top 40 songs and luxury items) offset by echo chambers in other parts of the noggin. Given the high testosterone of Champ and Dougee Dawg, April’s ideas were always met with enthusiasm. So when April mentioned her sophomore field trip to the Truman Library had included the docent’s enthusiastic description of the priceless jeweled weapons poorly secured behind glass just inside the door of the library, she was able to enflame Dougee Dawg and Champ’s glands and criminal ambitions.  

Swords

Sword Glass Display. // Truman Library, Public Domain

Now the actual heist has likely been forgotten by many of you but those details are of small consequence when you understand the rest of the story. I’ll distill the events of March 24, 1978: April distracts the guard on the north side of the building, Dougee Dawg and Champ break in through the south entrance, padlock the interior doors to prevent the guard from interrupting the heist, break the glass and quickly leave with dagger, scabbard, belt (courtesy of the Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia); a 38” long sword with gold grips and chain (also from Prince Saud); a sword and scabbard with an ivory grip and gold chain (Prince Saud was mighty generous); another sword but from the Shah of Iran; and the pieces de ’resistance—the dagger with gold hilt, four half-carat diamonds in the pommel, surrounding a 2.5 carat emerald. The lower grip had 15 diamonds surrounding a 3 carat ruby. The scabbard is gold with an 8.5 carat emerald over a 3 carat ruby surrounded by 12 small diamonds. The tip of the scabbard is a 3 carat ruby surrounded by 12 small diamonds. Dougee Dawg and Champ made off with over a million dollars of “art” in about 45 seconds.  

Now as I mentioned, the actual theft is and was only the preamble to this most incredible tale because unknown to our 25 year old thieves they now had in their possession a duffle bag of thoroughly cursed artistic weaponry. When I say cursed, I mean full out Indiana Jones kind of malevolent hocus pocus.

It started IMMEDIATELY. The plan was to take April’s yellow 1966 Malibu convertible previously owned by a young man who later became a state Supreme Court justice. Being yellow and a convertible didn’t trouble the masterminds since they were going to park it at Champ’s house and transfer to his non-descript primer colored Econoline. April was to lean on the horn to draw the attention of the guard and then do so again when he appeared to trigger the entry of Dougee Dawg and Champ on the other side of the building. That day a roofing company had been working on the northwest corner of the library repairing a leak. One of the workers had accidentally knocked a box of roofing nails on the parking lot and failed to scoop up a few dozen. In the dark, April had parked on those nails and as we all know, they invariably land points up.  

To settle their nerves before the drive to the library, they had all had a nice hit off Champ’s bong which initiated the classic munchy reaction. As the now defunct Texas Tom’s was on the way and their world famous tenderloins were too alluring for the gang, they decided on a quick stop before heading to the caper. Unfortunately, the secret sauce had been left out the night before. April was later glad that she ordered the cheeseburger with tots.  

When the second blare of the horn came from over the building, the boys broke into the library. When the guard (now suspicious) ran back to the building, April swiftly drove the Malibu to the front to pick up the boys and the booty. By the time she parked in front of the library steps, the front left and back left tires had about 5 pounds of pressure in each. In jumped the boys and off they tore down US 24 with the car pulling severely to the left. Unable to drive to Champ’s house, they decided to pull into McCoy Park to survey the damage and change the tire. April hardly had one good spare, let alone two, so they decided that they had to creep the Malibu to Champ’s on the rims. As they climbed back into the car, it hit Dougee Dawg first. 

Broken Window

A view of the broken glass in the lobby exhibit case where swords and daggers were stolen in a break-in at the Harry S. Truman Library. // Truman Library, Public Domain

It might have been the nerves but more likely it was e.coli. Regardless Dougee Dawg was creating an Olympic length rejection and projection of the tenderloin. Perhaps it was the sound or the aroma but that set Champ off. Champ’s rent house, carport and Econoline were about a mile from the park. Let’s paint the scene: yellow Malibu driven by April, creeping along at 10 miles per hour, left tires on the rims, Champ in the front passenger seat vomiting on his side of the car and Dougee Dawg retching out the small rear right window. Already they could hear sirens headed for the Library.  

So the plan was to head for Tulsa. Champ’s older cousin, Leon, lived in North Tulsa. He was a graduate of Rogers High School and friends with S.E. Hinton but also friends with the son of a rich Tulsa oilman who happened to be a collector of antiquities. Now “collector” is a loose description. Let’s call our collector Bob since the families of leading citizens who traffic in “antiquities” typically aren’t fond of being exposed, especially if they were members of the same Tulsa Rotary as Oral Roberts and Southern Hills.   

Leon had inherited a Coney-Islander restaurant from his and Champ’s Aunt Louise but Leon was aiming higher in his life—we wanted to be like Bob. Bob went on big game hunts down in Texas where they could “hunt” scraggily lions, wild boars and other endangered and illegal game. Bob also had a collection of Egyptian artifacts and other very rare historic contraband. Think Third Reich and Southeast Asia.  

Our gang quickly (well as quick as you can while dry heaving for an hour) transferred (after hosing off) the swords, daggers and belt into an old Wilson golf bag which they threw into the Econoline and headed south. If you obey the speed limits, it would have taken about 5.5 hours in 1978 to drive to North Tulsa from the Sugar Creek area. However if you have to upchuck at the Harrisonville weigh station or the Blue Top parking lot as well as the Ozark Village in Carthage before jumping on I-44… the sun was just coming up when our gang stopped in Claremore for a nap in the back of the Econoline. 

It was a beautiful early spring morning when April, Dougee Dawg, and Champ knocked on Leon’s apartment door with the golf bag thrown over Champ’s shoulder. Leon had been expecting them hours earlier but was nevertheless pleased to see them and the potential riches that he was prepared to fence. So was Leon’s bulldog, Grim, glad to see them.

After a most unsettling night, the urge to evacuate had passed and despite the sore stomach muscles, the gang was ready for breakfast. With the Wilson golf bag neatly stashed behind the couch, Leon, April, Dougee Dawg, and Champ sat down for a delicious repast of microwave heated breakfast burritos. Grim, so named for his countenance and missing right eye, also had a hankering for something chewable and that old leather Wilson golf bag had an irresistible “nose” of tanned bovine flesh. But the real delicacy was that beautifully embroidered and jewel-encrusted belt that heretofore had been associated with Prince Saud’s scabbard.  

The gang, though livid with Grim, reasoned that the belt was the least valuable of the haul particularly in light of its condition so threw it in the apartment dumpster and decided not to tell Bob that it was ever in their possession. Bob’s son, Travis, had arranged for the gang to meet up with his dad at the parking lot of Driller Stadium. The Drillers were the Cardinal AAA farm club but this being March they could meet unnoticed. The appraised value of the remaining collection was somewhere between $1 million and priceless but our masterminds recognizing that they couldn’t go to a pawn shop had limited leverage with Bob. Bob recognizing the amateur status of this crew opened the bidding at $10,000. Now $10,000 went quite a ways in 1978 but our gang intuited that they held items of considerably more worth and countered with $50,000. It was at that point, Bob nonchalantly let his coat open revealing a pearl-handled .25 caliber that he claimed had been owned by Clyde Barrow.

His counter was $8000. Champ, sensing that this approach was taking an unexpected and bad turn, decided that maybe a bluff might be in order.  

“Look, Sport, we’re going to drive across the street to Shakey’s for lunch. Make us a real offer or we’re heading back to Kansas City.”

Well, there’s a universal ironclad rule when dealing with sinners with pistoles, don’t call them Sport. The next 30 seconds went something like “$5000 mother-you-know-what and I don’t shoot you in the foot.”

Had you been driving down Yale Ave on the morning of March 25, 1978, you would’ve seen a beat up golf bag being sold for 50 one hundred dollar bills. Little did Bob know at that moment that he would later wish he’d paid the gang the fifty grand to take the bag and its contents and get the hell out of Tulsa. 

Champ, Dougee Dawg and April wished they’d never seen that bag either. Back on those days the Will Rogers Turnpike didn’t have the four foot concrete dividing the north versus southbound lanes. March 25 turned cold with that wicked east wind that signals nasty weather—icy nasty weather. Exhausted by food poisoning and lack of sleep, Champ lost control of the Econoline near Miami plunging off the overpass into the Neosho River. The bodies were recovered but the Ben Franklins washed away. 

Guys like Bob are not solo artists. What would be the fun in possessing a jewel-encrusted sword if you couldn’t share with others? Amongst his network of other guys wanting to demonstrate that theirs was bigger than everyone else’s, were LeRoy (money from medical supplies), JR (Daddy’s money) and Slats (an ironic nickname due to his 400 pounds whose source of income was strictly cash—weed and sports betting). When they got a load of the contents of the golf bag, it was a feeding frenzy.  

Bob was absolutely keeping the dagger and scabbard but felt like his buds ought to share in his good fortune and after all, by spreading the bounty, he could turn $5000 into much, much more. In fact, when the “auction” was over, Bob had netted $125,000. Within six months Bob and LeRoy were dead, JR was paralyzed, and Slats was in the prison in Stringtown.  

“Scabbard Bob” couldn’t believe his good fortune. He had the diamond, emerald, ruby and gold sheath and dagger. Had to be worth at least a half-million if he could get it to heavy oil sheiks in the Middle East. With his connections in the oil business, Bob knew if he could get to Riyadh with it, his five-k would be multiplied by a hundred. In those days, airport security was porous—you could carry most anything on the plane-dagger or no dagger. Bob let it be known through some discreet OPEC contacts that he was coming over with an item of great importance that any number of sheiks would likely find of great interest. What Bob didn’t appreciate was that the royal families in that neck of the desert weren’t too keen on buying back something that had originally been in their family.  

Dinner was arranged for Bob to meet with the most likely of the royal family to have the means and fetish for the amazing dagger and scabbard. By this time, the mystery of the stolen goods had traveled halfway around the world so the prince had a very good idea of the provenance of the pieces. Bob was very cordially welcomed to an extravagant buffet of local delicacies including a lovely array of cheeses and fruit. His host insisted on Bob trying the dates. Any fan of Harrison Ford movies knows the rest.  

Bad dates.

“Long Sword LeRoy” loved his 38-inch sword. Loved it. Made him feel medieval and invincible. One can’t imagine how someone could be so dang clumsy to plunge a sword of that length into their femoral artery but LeRoy managed to do so. LeRoy had several girlfriends (plus a wife and an ex-wife) and rather than get into the sordid details, let’s leave it that in the course of “swinging” the sword and the appendage he called “Long Sword,” LeRoy accidentally turned into the beloved sword penetrating the tender area near “Long Sword.” The medics said they’d never seen someone bleed out that fast.  

JR had won the bid for the sword from the Shah of Iran. Where Bob wanted to profit and LeRoy wanted to flaunt, JR felt that the sword was one call from the FBI and the resultant issues so he thought he’d store it, let the heat die down, and ultimately sell it on the black market. Simply an investment like those of his super-rich grandfather who left his parents, siblings, and himself set for life.

Now dear reader, the deaths of five souls who came in contact with the stolen treasures should be proof enough of the power of the curse that accompanied these inanimate objects but if further assurance is required, what happened to JR is a clincher. Like Bob (and most of the wealthy in Tulsa), JR was a member at Southern Hills CC. It’s an amazing club, having hosted seven major golf tournaments but also, like many of the prestigious clubs around the country, has a polo field and club. JR went to the local prep school, Holland Hall, graduated from SMU, married the prettiest girl on campus, and was the envy of the other forty-somethings who had to work for a living. Oh, he cut a dashing figure on his pony—Lancelot. In June of ’78, the Prestonwood Polo Club caravanned up to Tulsa for a match with the Southern Hills team. Usually, there are six chukkers in a polo match—JR made it to number four when Lancelot caught a hoof in a burrowing animal hole. Lancelot had to be destroyed and JR never walked again.  

Slats came away with the ivory-hilted gold chained sword. Not being sentimental, Slats threw it in the back of his Lincoln Continental. Despite his unsavory career path (drugs and gambling), Slats took delight in his ostentatious lifestyle—flaunting it. All the cops in Tulsa knew Slats but as hard as they tried, they couldn’t connect his nefarious dealings with solid evidence. That was until Slats took possession of the sword. The stuff immediately hit the fan.

Typically, Slats took delivery of significant quantities of high grade weed once every two months. The logistics were elaborate and insured safe procurement that kept Slats miles away from the product and its storage. Like any process, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The name of this weak link was Tab. Tab was a bonafide doofus that was the brother of Slats’ number one supplier and brand new to the operation. Tab really wanted to make a good impression on his brother and his number one customer, Slats. What better way to improve customer satisfaction than bring the shipment right to Slats. Though Slats wasn’t at home, Tab felt that he could delight Slats if he unloaded his cargo in Slats garage. Stringtown. Oh, the sword was impounded and sold at auction for the benefit of the Tulsa Library. Whereabouts unknown. 

So here we are, April 1, 43 years after the theft of the priceless treasures from the Library. No longer a mystery… maybe a myth.


This bit of alt. history around some real mysteries with a local twinge is the only April Fools’ Day joke we’re running. Unless someone does something incredible like declare today Ted Lasso Day in Kansas City. It’s a fun bit of fiction and not a weird outright lie for no reason. Hope you enjoyed 😉

Categories: Culture